Many years ago, there was an old storyteller – a master of his art – making his way through the countryside. As the sun lowered in the sky, he knew, from the grumbling in his stomach and the aching in his bones that he needed to find a place to rest that evening and, even more importantly, a meal. His prayer would soon be answered, for there at the foot of the hill was a Dojo, a school of swordsmanship where young, aspiring samurai could study under a master swordsman. The custom in those ancient days was to earn a meal and lodging for the night by engaging one of the students in a duel using wooden swords. The old man looked thoughtfully at the dojo and then felt the age in his bones and the weariness in his muscles and knew what a duel would mean to a man of his years. After a moment, a smile crossed his lips and he walked to the door of the school and knocked.
A young swordsman answered the door. “Grandfather, what can I do for you tonight?”
The old man smiled and said, “I am here to challenge the master of this school.”
The young man laughed and said, “Grandfather, why don’t you challenge one of our first year students?”
“No, I am here to challenge the master.”
“Why not one of our second year students?”
“No, I insist on meeting the master in a duel.”
The old man was brought into the training hall where all the students looked on with curiosity at the frail, old storyteller who had challenged their teacher. You see to challenge the master, a samurai, was to fight a duel with swords of steel, a duel to the death.
Word was sent to the master of the school, a swordsman whose reputation was known throughout Japan. He came to the hall and bowed to the storyteller. At his side, in his obi, he carried the long sword, the katana of the samurai. He signaled for one of his students to hand a sword to the old storyteller. The storyteller place the katana on the floor in front of him and never glanced at it again.
The master of the school finally spoke. “I accept your challenge. Please take up your weapon and we shall begin.”
Slowly, the swordsman drew his word to strike. As this happened, the old man finally spoke.
“Once, a long time ago, there was a small village near a beautiful stream at the foot of a mighty mountain. At the end of the village there was a cottage where an old man lived. Every day he would go to the stream and listen as the fish told him stories of the places they had traveled, the people they had seen, and the stories they had heard on their journey. Then old man would go to the village and tell his friends his new stories as they drank their morning tea. This…”
As the old storyteller was speaking, the master of the school lowered his sword and bowed. “You have defeated me,” he said to the weary traveler.
The students shouted. “How could he have won? He never stuck a blow. He never even picked up a sword.”
The samurai turned and looked at them and smiled. “How many times have I told you that to win in battle you must stay in present, you must stay in the moment? This man took me to a place far away and long ago. He could have slain me at will.”